RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Authenticity

Make Your Audience Feel Something

I was stuck in a meeting from hell today. Boring agenda. Listless participants. Too many tangents. If that weren’t enough, the meeting leader was not on his game and had introduced the first agenda item and then the second without taking time for introductions. One participant raised her hand and asked, “I know we’re half-way through this meeting, but I would really like to know who’s here. Could we go around the room and introduce ourselves?” Everyone agreed so we stopped the meeting for introductions. These too, were mind-numbingly dull until one guy shared a fun fact about himself.

After giving us his name, rank and serial number, he happened to mention that he just returned home from his honeymoon. At that point a few heads turned his way. The meeting leader made an off-hand comment about vows of marriage being a really big step in a person’s life, to which the guy replied, “True, but when you strike oil, you stop drilling.”

Everyone in the room perked up and looked at him directly, and what we saw was a smile on his face that went from one ear to the other. He was beaming. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to assume that the women started smiling back at him because it is refreshing to hear a guy publicly express loving thoughts about his wife, even if he did compare her to an oil gusher. I suppose the men in the room – and I’m taking a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess here – started smiling because the speaker’s facial expression may have conjured up images of, well, a great honeymoon.

From that moment on the meeting changed. There was energy and bonding and whoever else was left to introduce themselves stepped up their game. In scientific terms, the speaker’s sharing of personal information and expression of genuine emotion opened up a neural pathway in our brains that then let in more information and encouraged us to participate.

Sharing emotion may feel risky, but it can help you make a much better connection with your audience.

– Barbara

Advertisements

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Part One of a Two-Part Series on Ridding your Speech of Clichés

The debt ceiling debate has shed light on many problems, not the least of which is our penchant for speaking in clichés. After weeks of listening to politicians on both sides of the aisle sound like used car salesmen, we now have a list in my house of the Top Five sayings that should never be uttered again in this century:

 

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Kick the can down the road
  3. To be perfectly honest
  4. Robbing Peter to pay Paul
  5. Thinking outside the box

Thanks to the endless parade of talking heads, these expressions are plumb wore out (I just had to do that).  When you don’t have anything substantive to say, or you haven’t prepared, these clichés come in handy.  Many of our clients will respond to our feedback on eliminating clichés by saying that it’s important that they sound casual and conversational.  That’s fine.  You can still appear easy-going without uttering one of the five bizblabs above.  There is a difference between conversational speaking in which you avoid fancy, ivory-tower-sounding words and sleep-inducing catch phrases.

Do your audience a favor and delete these expressions from your memory.

– Barbara

Swim to the Deep End!

Thirty minutes into a challenging indoor cycling class when I was “seeing Elvis,” the instructor said, “If you have anything left in the tank, turn the tension up one more time.”  At that moment I had an epiphany:  the human body is capable of much more than the mind allows.  Once we push past the mental barrier that yells, “I can’t! It’s too hard!,” we find that we are stronger, smarter, and open to new possibilities.   Medal-winning athletes know this, and so do successful speakers.

When you are about to stand up and speak, what’s going through your mind?  Odds are it’s something like, “Let me just get through this without embarrassment,” or “Please don’t let me trip on the electrical cord.”  Chances are that you are not thinking, “I can’t wait to take a risk and really put myself out there.”

This blog post is an invitation to let your body move past the limits that your mind imposes.  If you want to really impress your audience and leave them with a pleasant aftertaste, consider incorporating one of these physical techniques:

  1. Change your volume.  If you are naturally on the church mouse end of the continuum, try speaking much louder.  If your style is closer to the carnival barker, try softening your voice.  Notice what it does to the rest of your delivery.
  2. Sing loudly right before you present.  You will be more energized and relaxed when you begin your presentation.
  3. Make a sound effect where you would normally use an adjective.  Go from bland to “Now that got my attention!”
  4. Step away from the lectern.  It’s a crutch.  Try speaking in the “magic circle” – that space front and center of the room.  Your audience will thank you.
  5. Break the wall.  Most speakers deliver their presentation at a “professional” distance from their audience.  Try moving closer into the personal space for an important point and then move back.

Break the mental barrier that keeps us stuck in the safe-and-average shallow end and move into the risky-and-fabulous deep end of the pool!  Your body should be in the lead role, not your mind.

– Barbara

Manage Your Nerves Like a Hollywood Actor

“I’m very pleased to be hosting the Oscars again because fear and nausea always make me lose weight.” – Steve Martin

There’s a theme emerging this month with my coaching clients: the battle of the public speaking butterflies. In a couple of cases, a more accurate description would be “Overcoming Crippling Stage Fright.” If you have your own dose of public speaking anxiety, you are in good company. Barbara Streisand and Carly Simon are two examples of talented performers who can be gripped by stage fright before a show. As Carly herself once said, “I can’t say I’m really comfortable about [performing in front of thousands of people], but I’m very positive. I know that, as nervous as I might get, or as shell-shocked as I might feel, I’ll get through it and I’ll give the audience a good show.”

Perhaps the best story I’ve heard on making lemonade out of nervous lemons is the one about comedian Steven Wright who is best known for his droll and deadpan delivery style. As the story goes, he was so nervous during his debut standup act that the audience thought he was in character and as a result, his stage persona was launched.

We may not all be as lucky as Steven Wright, but we are capable of managing the butterflies. My advice today is to print out the poem below and keep it handy so that you can recite it before your next presentation. I stumbled across it when I was researching stage fright and it spoke to me. If it works for stage and screen actors, it can work for the rest of us.

The Actor’s Vow (condensed)

I will take my rightful place on the stage
And I will be myself.

I am not a cosmic orphan
I have no reason to be timid.

I will have my throat open.
I will have my heart open.
I will be vulnerable.

I may have anything or everything the world
Has to offer, but the thing
I need most, and want most, is to be myself.

The best and most human parts of me are
Those I have inhabited and hidden from
The world.

I will work on it.
I will raise my voice.
I will be heard.

Break a leg…

– Barbara

What Should You Do With Your Hands?

Charlotte and I facilitated a Speaker Bootcamp this week for a great company whose employees were ready and willing to learn.  When we reached the section on hand gestures, one participant asked, “Does a speaker have to use hand gestures?”  Our answer:  Only on the days of the week that end in Y.

If you want to connect with and leave a lasting impression on your audience, gestures are one leg of a three-legged stool. Without them, the impact of your words and your voice will be diminished.   Great speakers communicate visually as well as verbally.

When we asked the participant to elaborate on her question, she explained that she always felt awkward using her hands and therefore felt that her gestures detracted from her presentation.  She is not alone.  And for that reason, I thought it would be worthwhile to share the coaching we provided during the workshop:

  1.  Find a comfortable base position for your hands near your belt line.  This is the ideal spot for resting hands because it is neither too close to your chest (which can signal fear) nor too close to your, well, crotch, which can signal defensiveness.
  2. While in the base position, try not to grip your hands too tightly. White knuckles are a dead giveaway for nervousness.
  3. Visualize the gesturing “box” which is just outside and above your shoulders and no lower than your hips.  Keep your gestures in this box when you are standing up to speak.
  4. If you are sitting – for example, as a member of a panel presentation – don’t rest your elbows on the table while you gesture.  Sit tall in your chair with your forearms off the table when you are speaking.  When you are waiting your turn to speak, it is fine to rest your arms, but be mindful of your posture so you don’t slouch.
  5. Don’t bounce your hands when gesturing.  Your goal is to enhance your words, not detract from them.  Bouncing hands only worked for Mussolini.

Finally, keep one important thing in mind:  your energy has to go somewhere.  Whether it’s nervous energy or positive energy, using your hands effectively will channel that energy to the right place. Otherwise, it’s going to ooze out in your stance and you will rock and roll in your feet, hips and knees.  Your audience will wonder if you need to use the restroom.

So, yes, Virginia, always use your hands when you speak.

– Barbara

The Pros and Cons of Audience Facial Expressions

“There is a link between facial expression and emotion, but it’s not a one-to-one kind of relationship as many once thought. There are many situations where emotion is experienced, yet no prototypic facial expression is displayed. And there are times when a facial expression appears with no corresponding emotion.” – L. Camras, Psychologist, DePaul University

After many years in the classroom, the conference room, and the ballroom, there are few things that can trigger a nervous reaction in me. For example, last week, when the laptop I was promised for my workshop never materialized, I shrugged it off. (See our post on always having a Plan B). I made the necessary calls to track it down, but when it was time to start the program, I moved on without being thrown off my game. (See also Charlotte’s previous post about decreasing the use of PowerPoint).

It’s a mystery why I could not apply that same coping mechanism to the other issue I encountered that morning: audience facial expressions – specifically, one audience member in particular. I kept getting an intense, thousand yard stare from a participant near the front of the room. It continued for three hours. The best analogy I can provide is Stanley from NBC’s The Office. The more I looked at him, the more agita I felt. I kept waiting for him to pull out his crossword puzzle book and check out.

I used every tactic in my bag of tricks: I made meaningful eye contact, I smiled, I spoke his name, and none of it made a dent. But here’s the catch: At the end of the workshop, “Stanley” approached me and asked for my card. He explained that he wanted me to run the workshop again for his entire team. What?! How could I have been so wrong about him?

Turns out, I could easily have misinterpreted his expression and assumed it was a direct response to my presentation. Psychologists are all over the map when it comes to facial expressions. Some researchers have found a correlation between the expression on a person’s face and their internal emotional state. Others have found no correlation at all. Given that reality, why not play the game in your favor rather than assume the worst? That’s what I am taking away from my experience the other day and hope you will too.

If you notice a negative vibe coming your way early in a speech or presentation, first remind yourself that there may not be a direct correlation between the scowl you see on the person’s face and their opinion of your presentation. Second, move past that individual and look for a friendly face that will put you back on firm footing. I’m reminded of that famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”

– Barbara

Are you a Credible Speaker?

I went to a fitness class yesterday with the intention of working up a good sweat after two days of sitting. Ten minutes into the class, the instructor said, “Now it’s time to do some dead lifts.” He proceeded to demonstrate your basic squat. I thought to myself, “It’s Saturday morning, his brain is still in bed,” and I joined him in the squat sequence.

Another ten minutes went by and he began to explain the importance of stretching the piriformis muscle, but he pronounced it “pirsiform.” OK, maybe he’s hung over. A few minutes before the end of class he turned to us and said, “One more rep!” But what he meant to say was “One more set.” The whole class did one last rep and set their weights down and he yelled at us –yes, yelled at us – to keep going.

That was it. Now I was frustrated. He had lost all credibility with me. Which means I will likely vote with my feet and avoid his classes in the future.

Of all the attributes of a successful public speaker, credibility tops the list. It’s even higher than making a connection, because what good is a strong connection with the audience if they don’t believe what you’re saying? Here are three tips to keep in mind about establishing credibility:

1. Don’t talk about what you don’t know. Before you get up to present, read through your notes and be sure there is nothing in there that could undermine your authority. Feeling confident that you are in command of your subject matter is essential.

2. Establish your ‘street cred” up front. Don’t wait until the conclusion to tell us you lived in London for ten years when your topic is Royal Weddings. Lead with the information that will help your audience settle in and give you their attention.

3. Put some energy into your words. Don’t memorize your speech or read from your text. Speaking is meant to sound different from the written word. The reason I overlooked the first error the fitness instructor made was because he was so excited to do 30 squats. That was more important than using the correct term, so we all just went right along.

In summary, consider this quote by Eliot Spitzer: ”I don’t care about motivation. I care about credibility.” Wiser words…..

– Barbara